Peduto and Leah Lizarondo at SDG panel at CMU. Bill O'Toole.

In September of 2015, several months before the landmark Paris Climate Agreement, world leaders gathered at the United Nations in New York City to sign a less well-known, but similarly ambitious, declaration.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, signed by all member states, laid out 19 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) providing “a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” In order to end poverty and other deprivations, these goals aim to “improve health and education, reduce inequality and spur economic growth — all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.”

Since then, hundreds of cities, companies and entrepreneurs across the country have used the agenda to map their policies.

Mayor Bill Peduto joined a cross section of experts from academia and Pittsburgh’s private sector this afternoon at Carnegie Mellon University’s Hamburg Hall to discuss the way they have and will continue to apply the goals.

“There’s been an amazing shift in the last ten years in the role of cities in addressing major issues,” Peduto told the audience. “The vacuum of leadership in Washington has allowed cities to push that much faster.”

Along with Peduto, panelists included 412 Food Rescue Co-founder Leah Lizarondo, Covestro Chairman and CEO Jerry MacCleary and Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Tony Pita. CMU distinguished professor and former US Ambassador to the UN Social and Economic Council Sarah Mendelson moderated the discussion.

In keeping with the wide remit of the SDGs, the conversation touched on a range of topics.

For Lizarondo, the goals informed the structure of 412 Food Rescue from its earliest stages. “One of the things I believed in was framing our work, even the education, around the SDGs,” she said.

MacCleary, who also chairs the Allegheny Conference’s sustainability committee, touted Covestro’s initiatives related to community and workplace health and the company’s involvement with The Alliance to End Plastic Waste. Through this initiative, Covestro, along with more than 25 companies throughout the plastics value chain are working together to develop and scale solutions to minimize and manage plastic waste and promote solutions for reusing, recovering and recycling plastics.

MacCleary, a white, middle-aged executive, also bluntly made the case for applying the SDGs diversity goals in his corporate decision-making process: “I don’t want to sit on committees where everyone looks like me,” he said. “It doesn’t work, folks.”

Peduto explained how the SDGs formed the basis of the city’s OnePGH development plan and discussed how they could affect other city functions, like procuring supplies and equipment. He said he and other American mayors who met last week for a summit on gun violence in Toledo are in the early stages of discussing ways to exclude gun companies who make assault weapons from gaining city contracts.

“The solutions lie at the local level,” said Mayor Peduto.

Speaking to the media after the panel, Peduto said there are no fresh developments on the unveiling of the OnePGH funding plan. “We don’t have the hard commitment that people will be looking for from the universities and hospitals,” says Peduto. “We have a commitment, but drilling down to specifically what that will be” is still needed.

Even if the negotiations come through, local leaders including County Controller Chelsa Wagner have criticized the notion of a city development fund dependent on the charity of our city’s elite institutions, saying it will give them too much control over policymaking.

At CMU, the mayor pushed back against that point, saying the public would have a chance to review and comment on all the actions of the fund.

“If there are changes to be made,” he said, “it will be a living document. It won’t be set in stone.”

The mayor went on to say he is unbothered by our healthcare and education industries having some control over the fund: “They have an ability to say what they’re going to fund, and they have the opportunity not to fund anything.”

“There’s no money coming from Washington,” Peduto added. “There’s no money coming from Harrisburg. We’ve got to create a way to solve our own problems working as one community.”

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.